Two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut successfully docked with the ISS (aboard a Soyuz capsule) at 02:28 GMT on 29 March, after a flight time of just 5 hours and 45 minutes. The new crew members were greeted with hugs and camera flashes when the Soyuz hatch finally opened at 04:35 GMT, due to a slight delay equalizing the pressure between the two craft.
The Soyuz itself was functioning as usual and was not any faster. What made the process quicker was a new launch method that made the journey a lost faster than 2 days, which is usually a minimal on trips to the ISS.
When a Soyuz capsule enters orbit, it is on a path a bit lower than the ISS, making it quicker. As it closes on the station, a series of thrusters guide the capsule to the right orbit to rendezvous with it.
The speedier meeting means that the ISS crew has to do some of the work and makes the business trickier. On 21 March, an unmanned cargo vehicle, already docked with the ISS, fired its thrusters to shift the station 4.8km higher, putting it in the right orbit to meet the Soyuz capsule. A considerable amount of planning and a compressed timeline for the astronauts is inevitable, as a 2-day journey is completed in less than 6 hours.
The astronauts must remain in pressurized suits for safety reasons, but the faster trip reduces the necessary amount of food and fuel, and the time the astronauts spend in the cramped Soyuz capsule.
Fast-track launches have been proven to work for Soyuz flights, and it remains for ISS managers to use them on case-by-case basis. However SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule will still take the slow road to the station.
Watch the launch: http://1.usa.gov/
Watch the docking: http://1.usa.gov/11V8Z5o
Image: The Soyuz TMA-08M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 28, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi)